Autonomous robots are robots which can perform desired tasks in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance. Unlike the earliest versions of factory robots they must negotiate environments which are changeable, full of obstacles and possibly hostile.
Many kinds of robots are autonomous to some degree.
Some modern factory robots are autonomous within the strict confines of their direct environment.
Maybe not every degree of freedom exists in their surrounding environment but the work place of the factory robot is challenging and can often be unpredictable or even chaotic. The exact orientation and position of the next object of work and (in the more advanced factories) even the type of object and the required task must be determined. This can vary unpredicatably (at least from the robot's point of view). From the start, factory robots have not been subject to continuous human guidance or necessarily any human guidance at all.
They still require regular maintenance and checks though, as do all other robots currently in existence.
Different robots can be autonomous in different ways, and a high degree of autonomy is desirable in fields such as space exploration, where communication delays and interruptions are unavoidable.
One of the important areas of robotics research is to do with allowing the robot to cope with its expected environment whether this be on land, underwater, in the air, underground or in space.
Some of the things a fully autonomous robot might need to be able to do in the real world are:
- The ability to work for large amounts of time (months or years) on end without supervision.
- The ability to repair itself without outside assistance.
- The ability to adjust strategies based on the surroundings.
- The ability to adapt to surroundings without outside assistance.
- The ability to travel from a randomly chosen point A on a map to a randomly chosen point B, without any outside assistance.
- The ability to learn or gain new capabilities without outside assistance.
- The ability to gain information about the environment by themselves.
Examples of progress towards autonomous robotics
A new area showing commercial promise is domestic robots, with a few companies starting to market small vacuuming robots. While the level of intelligence is not high in these systems, they are capable of cleaning the carpet on their own within given bounds.
Toy robots are increasingly sophisticated: for example, Sony markets the Aibo range of robotic toy dogs, which are capable of some autonomous behavior. In general, all Social robots require autonomy to be considered social in the first place.
- mapping the surface with 3-D vision
- computing safe and unsafe areas on the surface within that field of vision
- computing optimal paths across the safe area towards the desired destination
- driving along the calculated route;
- repeating this cycle until either the destination is reached, or there is no known path to the destination
They are also capable of running many tasks autonomously, such as sun-finding, automatic communications sessions, and auto-reboot.
The DARPA Grand Challenge is another attempt to develop more autonomous capabilities for ground vehicles.
Cruise missiles are rather dangerous highly autonomous robots.
Pilotless drone aircraft are increasingly used for reconnaissance. Some of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are capable of flying their entire mission without any human interaction at all except possibly for the landing where a person intervenes using radio remote control. But some drone aircraft are capable of a safe, automatic landing also. UAVs are highly autonomous robots.
On a less militaristic note these robots are musical and athletic.
- Artificial intelligence.
- Evolutionary robotics.
- Grey Walter.
- von Neumann machine.
- Simultaneous localization and mapping.